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Tennis News • Gimelstob Must Go Now

By Alix Ramsay


So Justin Gimelstob is not exactly guilty but not exactly not guilty, either. The former player was sentenced to a three year probation period, 60 days of community labour and 52 weeks of anger management classes after he offered a plea of ‘no contest’ to a felony battery charge this week. He is a very lucky boy, then.
But for the sake of the sport that made him famous (or infamous, perhaps), Gimelstob must now go. He must be removed from the board of directors at the ATP, where he acts as a player representative, and he should never be allowed back.


What the Tennis Channel choses to do with him – he is currently on voluntary leave from his job as a commentator for the network – is up to them. But if ESPN can fire Doug Adler for what they deemed to be an “inappropriate” remark made in reference to Venus Williams, one that was taken out of context and whipped up to fever pitch on social media on the back of one tweet posted by one freelance journalist, then Gimelstob must be skating on pretty thin ice.


Adler, for the record, fought tooth and nail for two years to clear his name and eventually succeeded in February of this year. He could well be back behind the ESPN microphone for their Wimbledon coverage.
Under the legal definition of “no contest,” the 42-year-old Gimelstob was found guilty of assaulting Randall Kaplan, a friend of Gimelstob’s former wife at a Los Angeles court on Monday of this week. Through the victim impact statements of both Kaplan and his wife, the court heard that the attack took place on Halloween last year and that Kaplan, his wife and two-year-old daughter were out trick-or-treating at the time. The statements alleged that Gimelstob assaulted Kaplan from behind, pushing him to the ground, pinning him down and then punching him 50 times in the face and head.


At the preliminary hearings last year, Gimelstob pleaded ‘not guilty’ to charges of battery causing serious bodily injury. The case was due to go to trial in January but was postponed. By changing his plea to ‘no contest’ at a hearing on Monday, Gimelstob did not admit to the crime – although the result of the case will ensure that he now has a criminal record – but he did manage to sidestep what could have been a lengthy prison sentence.


As a result of his new plea, the judge had it within his power to reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanour and the sentence was, accordingly, much, much lighter. It also meant that there was no trial so no opportunity for the prosecution to drag any potential skeletons from Gimelstob’s cupboards and present them, very publically, to a jury.


It also means that in any future civil action, the plea of ‘no contest’ – while it is, in effect, a guilty plea – cannot be used in evidence.


The victim impact statements of both Kaplan and his wife, Madison, make for harrowing reading. It should be made clear here that Gimelstob has the right to challenge the points and accusations made in these statements should a civil case be brought in the future, but what the couple had to say in court was the stuff of nightmares.


Kaplan claimed that he thought he was going to die. He alleges that Gimelstob did little to disabuse him of this notion, yelling time and again: “I’m going to f*****g kill you!” Kaplan’s wife managed to video some of the attack on her phone before calling the police. The whole incident lasted for approximately three minutes.


Kaplan was left with concussion, cuts and bruises but Madison Kaplan, who was in the early stages of pregnancy, suffered a miscarriage soon after the incident. In her statement, she said that her doctors attributed the miscarriage to the stress of witnessing the attack.


Kaplan also claimed that he, his wife and his teenage children from a previous marriage, have lived in fear ever since the attack. Gimelstob knows where Kaplan lives and where his ex-wife, who shares custody of their children, lives. He claims they are all scared that Gimelstob could come back to carry out his threat to “f*****g kill you”.


According to the LA Times, Gimelstob shook his head and said “no” as Kaplan described the attack and alleged that Gimelstob had a history of violent behaviour. The judge, the Hon. Upinder Kalra, was critical of these responses wondering how Gimelstob would be able to control himself outside the court room when he clearly could not restrain himself within its confines.


The Daily Telegraph in London reported that the judge made his views very clear and warned Gimelstob that any public denials of guilt could result in a much harsher penalty.


The newspaper noted that judge Kalra explained: “After a plea is entered, if a person goes out on the courtroom steps and denies responsibility, the court can bring the person right back in and set aside that plea, really easily. If he denies responsibility there are consequences. I can set aside this plea… he’s free to have a trial if he wants one.”


But now the case is closed and everyone can, in theory, move on with their lives. So where does Gimelstob go from here? Wimbledon has already banned him from their legends’ invitation event and from the Royal Box this summer and there are rumours that he may not be granted a credential of any kind to the tournament. But where does the ATP go from here?


When the charges were first brought against him, Gimelstob was allowed to remain on the board of directors at the ATP. The theory was that he was innocent until proven guilty. That may sound laudable – the players backing one of their own until he is shown to have done wrong – but it was misguided.
Back then, tennis had to be seen to be doing the right thing. If a player is fined for letting fly with an expletive or two when he drops serve or misses a break point – the players are supposed to be role models – then how could the same association continue to employ a man who was charged with, in the words of the Hon. Upinder Kalra, a “violent, unprovoked attack” on a man out with his wife and young daughter? But tennis did not do the right thing and Gimelstob stayed put.


That Gimelstob was then allowed to vote on the future of Chris Kermode as president of the ATP (and oversee Kermode’s removal) is beyond belief. In the midst of the political upheaval at the association, there he was, still a voting board member despite facing criminal charges at home, and still able to engineer a power shift that could have been seen by some to be to his own advantage.


He stood down from his commentator’s duties with the Tennis Channel as soon as the story broke. Obviously, that was the decent thing to do, particularly when they pay him a hefty wad of cash for his skills. But it appears that he did not regard stepping aside from the ATP as a good or decent move.


Now that Gimelstob has been found guilty and sentenced, the ATP has one last chance to redeem itself. If the association is to have any credibility in the future, Gimelstob must go. And go now.

American Justin Gimelstob returns a shot against Lucasz Kubot during men's qualifying at the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California, Thursday, 09 March 2006. EPA/PAUL BUCK

American Justin Gimelstob returns a shot against Lucasz Kubot during men’s qualifying at the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California, Thursday, 09 March 2006. EPA/PAUL BUCK

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